Can huge park redefine downtown Houston?

HOUSTON For more than a year it's been taking shape across from the George R. Brown Convention Center. Land has been transformed into a lure to get more people back to a downtown that's been hard to populate on weekends and at night. It's called Discovery Green, but nearly everyone we asked had no idea what it is.

Prepare to hear a lot about Discovery Green as it prepares to bring a new look to the downtown area. It's no sprawling Central Park, but it includes some of its features, from open spaces to a concert stage. Besides the entertainment, there's the chance for outdoor recreation.

Susanne Theis, Director of Programming for Discovery Green, explained, "We wanted this to be a place where people came together that is more of an active park."

Discovery Green officially opens on April 13, welcoming people to the city's newest amenity. There's a pet component, too -- a separate area for dogs and their owners under the shade of some large oak trees that have been there for more than 100 years.

Corporate and private donations raised the bulk of the $122 million for construction and operation of Discovery Green. The facility will be run by a non-profit group.

"Private foundations stepped forward and contributed the first $35 million to help build the park, and then our board led by Nancy Kinder raised the additional money," Theis said.

You don't have to bring a picnic basket. For starters, there's the Grove restaurant -- meal prices start at $12. Or there's the Lake House where you can grab a burger.

The park is going to draw in people from around the Houston area -- that means cars. In the park design there's a way built in to accommodate parking without paving over more land. There is a parking garage underneath the park that has 672 spaces. There's also metered street parking.

It's impossible to say whether Discovery Green will redefine downtown from a business center into a well rounded civic center. But plenty of people believe say it will offer a softer, calming side to a place until now defined by concrete and stone.

Downtown resident Lotus Hoey said, "I'm so thrilled that we are getting the Discovery Green because it brings a lot of serenity to a very busy city."

"It sounds like it's relaxing," said resident Laura McDuffie. "I just think knowing it's a place where you can relax and just kind of hang out in an informal way."

You'll get your chance to find out when the park opens on April 13.

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